What is the Marginal Syllabus?
Since 2016, the Marginal Syllabus has convened and sustained online conversations with educators about equity in education through open and collaborative web annotation.
The Marginal Syllabus’ name, design, and learning opportunities are all intentional references to multiple interpretations of the word marginal. First, the Marginal Syllabus partners with authors whose writing is contrary to dominant education norms. As educators read, annotate, and discuss texts from partner authors, participants engage with perspectives that are marginal to the schooling status quo. Second, the Marginal Syllabus hosts and curates publicly accessible conversations among educators that occur in the margins of online texts using open and collaborative web annotation. In other words, the Marginal Syllabus creates marginal online spaces for democratic dialogue. And third, the Marginal Syllabus supports educator conversation and collaboration using Hypothesis, an open-source web annotation technology developed by the eponymous non-profit organization. Despite not being initially designed as educational technology, Hypothesis has developed a learning technology that is marginal to commercial edtech.
What’s Open about the Marginal Syllabus?
The Marginal Syllabus design team has created an equity-oriented and open approach to educator learning that is guided by four design principles.
Leveraging the open web: When educators participate in Marginal Syllabus annotation conversation, they leverage the open web – including the use of open-source software – as a means of advancing their professional learning. As noted, the Marginal Syllabus uses Hypothesis as a first step toward orienting educators toward more equitable engagement with digital tools, spaces, and relations across the open web.
Fostering multi-stakeholder partnerships: Now in its third year of public programming, the Marginal Syllabus is a multi-stakeholder partnership among educators, the National Writing Project (NWP, who has hosted the 2017-18 and now the 2018-19 syllabi), the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE, who for the 2018-19 syllabi has made openly accessible a curated set of texts to anchor social reading), Hypothesis, authors and publishers of scholarship, and educational researchers.
Working with open content: The Marginal Syllabus works with various types of open content. Consent is obtained from authors to publicly annotate their writing using Hypothesis. Educators are helped to recognize that their public participation via open annotation conversation produces open content that others can access, reference, and even remix. And Marginal Syllabus research accesses open data generated through educators’ open annotation conversation to better understand how crowds of educators learn by adding layers of discourse to open content (check out Marginal Syllabus’ “crowd layers”).
Engaging professional learning as an open practice: The Marginal Syllabus approaches Educator professional learning as an open practice that is framed by commitments to transparency, reflection, and critical inquiry. Educators who voluntarily participate in the Marginal Syllabus’ public annotation conversations have chosen to practice new forms of interest-driven professional learning across openly-networked online spaces.
The Marginal Syllabus as Open Pedagogy
How might you participate in the open educational practices fostered by the Marginal Syllabus?
First, you are very welcome to read – and annotate, whether publicly or privately – any of the 16 texts from both the 2016-17 syllabus and the 2017-18 syllabus. All Marginal Syllabus texts – including articles, book chapters, and blog posts – are openly accessible resources, and all Marginal Syllabus annotation conversations are also publicly accessible for you to read, too.
Second, you can incorporate any Marginal Syllabus text into a course this year. You and your students are very welcome to join and extend any of our previous 2016-17 and 20171-18 Marginal Syllabus conversations. Here’s one illustrative anecdote from Marginal Syllabus friend Dr. Kira Baker-Doyle when she and her students joined a Marginal Syllabus conversation during the fall of 2017:
Kira incorporated both collaborative web annotation and the Marginal Syllabus into her literacy course. Annotating as a course activity likely required multiple steps and supports: Onboarding students to a new tool (i.e. creating a free Hypothesis account); modeling and encouraging new media practices (i.e. annotating with Hypothesis); introducing the Marginal Syllabus as an open and public approach to educator learning that leverages web annotation; and then facilitating the simultaneous reading and annotating of the focal text.
Third, join the 2018-19 Marginal Syllabus starting this fall! The 2018-19 syllabus is titled “Literacy, Equity + Remarkable Notes = LEARN,” it is hosted by NWP’s Educator Innovator, and it features eights texts from 19 partner authors (!) that appear in five different NCTE publications. The 2018-19 syllabus will organize conversations through June, 2019. The Marginal Syllabus is thrilled to welcome our partnership with NCTE as a leading publisher who has made openly accessible this curated set of texts to anchor our social reading, writing, and discussion about the intersection of literacy and equity. Throughout this academic year, we aim to surface a range of remarkable notes in the margins of these texts, while also centering our focus on topics and scholarship that often are on the margins of teaching and learning. Join us!